Dueling women ski to victory in Italy
Norwegian Heidi Weng wins second Tour de Ski, Østberg second; Sundby second among men
Jo Christian Weldingh
Heidi Weng celebrated her second consecutive Tour de Ski cross-country victory Jan. 7. The duel with fellow Norwegian Ingvild Flugstad Østberg up the finishing alpine skiing trail in the 9km skate pursuit in Val di Fiemme, Italy, ended quickly when Weng broke away in the first steep climb to finish with a time of 32:13.3. Østberg came in second overall (33:01.8), while American Jessica Diggins came in third (34:36.5).
The women’s Tour de Ski this year has been all about the duel between Østberg and Weng, with Østberg being the fastest sprinter and Weng being a tad better on the longer stages. They started the finishing pursuit stage with only seconds between them and entered the last climb, called “The Monster Hill” by both athletes and fans. Just as most people who follow cross-country skiing closely were expecting, only a few hundred yards into the climb Weng used her superior climbing skills to break away. Østberg didn’t have a chance.
After the race, Weng said it had been an incredibly tough tour and that she couldn’t understand that she was able to win it once more. “Entering the tour, I did not expect it to go this well. I’m surprised,” she said.
Østberg was able to keep the other contenders behind her, even though she got fatigued trying to keep up with Weng in the first part of the climb. She finished 48 seconds behind Weng. “I think I skied a pretty good race, but I was afraid of Jessica catching up to me,” Østberg said, talking about the American Diggins, who crossed the finish line as No. 3, a minute and a half behind Østberg. “She has a very strong finish.”
Østberg describes the duel with Weng as special. She felt strong, but when the last climb started, she wasn’t even close to being able to follow Weng. “I was expecting her to increase her speed, and I wasn’t surprised when it finally happened. I tried to keep up, but she was in a whole different league. She deserved the win today,” she said.
Weng’s overall victory is the fifth time a Norwegian woman has won in five years. Weng won the tour last year, Therese Johaug has won the tour two times, and Marit Bjørgen has won once.
The men’s 9km freestyle pursuit race was not as exciting as the women’s. Dario Cologna of Switzerland led by almost two minutes before the stage, and everyone expected him to win. The fight for second place, on the other hand, was wide open.
A minute or so after Cologna crossed the finish line in 28:52.1 for his fourth Tour de Ski title, Norwegian Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Canadian Alex Harvey neared the top of “The Monster Hill,” Harvey trailing Sundby by a few meters. The Canadian tried to overtake him but had to give up. Sundby came in second in 30:18.6; Harvey came in third (30:22.7) and became the first non-European man to place on the Tour de Ski podium.
Sundby had a good race and had the fastest stage time of all. “I can barely speak,” a totally exhausted Sundby proclaimed in the press zone. “I’m glad that I’m able to keep myself motivated throughout the stage. When I started today, I knew I had a chance to end up on the podium, and I’m very happy with second place. I have never been as tired as I was the last couple of kilometers. That’s a feeling I don’t wish on my worst enemy.”
Sundby, who has won the Tour de Ski three times before, had a mediocre tour before the finishing pursuit stage and started out as No. 6, only seconds behind Russian Alexander Bolshunov. They teamed up and quickly eliminated Alex Harvey and Alexey Poltoranin’s 35-second lead. It was a tough fight up the last climb. Bolshunov got tired and lost contact with the others a few miles before the finish, while Poltoranin was almost able to keep up all the way but had to let Sundby and Harvey go a couple hundred yards before the finish.
The Tour de Ski is a cross-country skiing event held annually since the 2006-2007 season in Central Europe, modeled on the Tour de France of cycling. Each Tour de Ski has consisted of six to nine stages, held during late December and early January in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. This year’s Tour was between Dec. 30, 2017, and Jan. 7.
Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 26, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.